At this moment, I’m struggling with a massive hangover, tasked with writing about my current nemesis — alcohol. My stomach gurgles, my head flounders, and I was 2 pounds lighter this morning due to dehydration. And it’s a Monday. In one of those sleepless “what was I thinking” moments at 4 a.m., I rolled over, chugged a tall glass of water waiting next to the bed and attempted to rehydrate my desiccated tongue. But I needed far more than liquid to tame this monster, so I decided to learn why I arrived in this state and how to avoid it.
I’ve always thought wine birthed the worst hangovers, with its high sugar content and damned-near-perfect drinkability. Apparently, it’s something far more nefarious. A main cause of hangovers is congeners, a toxic by-product of distillation and fermentation. It seems the more congeners a liquor contains, the worse the hangover. Brandy has the most and then, in descending order: red wine, rum, whisky, white wine, gin and vodka. Also lurking in many drinks are methanol, acetone and acetaldehyde — evil-sounding organic molecules which share the poisoning responsibility.
The hammering headache materializes because alcohol is a diuretic (as most beer drinkers know) and, after a night of consistent consumption, your body gets sucked dry of water. Adding insult, if you drink caffeinated drinks the day after, you exacerbate the effects of the already drained brain. But if you’re addicted to your morning jolt, no coffee equals an intense withdrawal headache, so pick your torture. The other lovely side effects, nausea and vomiting, come from the perfect combo of alcohol’s effect on the stomach and central nervous system; and fatigue and the overall run-over-by-a-truck-feeling are caused by alcohol’s depressant effect, the build-up of acids in the blood and the utter depletion of vitamins and minerals in your system.
But an ounce of prevention is, well, everything in the case of a hangover. There’s no cure for it, although the Internet is rife with products that claim just that. Vitamins don’t help after the fact, nor does exercise speed up your body’s ability to metabolize the alcohol (approximately one-third ounce per hour). The best way to avoid the day-after doldrums? Drink responsibly and, if that isn’t possible (or realistic), try the following preventative techniques:
• Have a substantial meal before drinking that includes fatty foods, milk or cheese and bread. Food after the fact will not “absorb” any alcohol. But a greasy burger the next day always helps me feel better.
• Intersperse alcoholic drinks with water
• Take a multi-vitamin before drinking
• Before drinking, eat anything with high levels of fructose in it (fruit or honey), which will help metabolize the alcohol
• A high dose (100 mg) of thiamin (vitamin B1) at least an hour before drinking supposedly helps break down alcohol in the blood
• Avoid carbonated drinks, since they speed up intoxication and heighten hangovers
• And always remember: “Beer before liquor, never sicker”